News | Published April 10, 2012

Two souvenirs: an English couple overcomes fertility issues on American soil

Editor's Note: Two Souvenirs first appeared in Issue 3 of INSIGHTS magazine, which was mailed to Centre County residents in March. Some information in the article about in vitro fertilization was incorrect. The story here has the corrected information. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

When Paula and Brian Chan came to the United States from their native England three years ago, they soon decided that one big move deserved another. They already had a child, their son Dylan, but realized they wanted to have another. However, after trying for some time, as Paula says, "It just wasn't happening for us."

Fertility issues can affect anyone, and a woman or couple who is unable to conceive may in fact be dealing with multiple causes. Fertility can be affected by reduced or less mobile sperm, abnormal ovulation, even general health issues such as smoking and weight management. But the largest factor against fertility, especially in women, is age.

At nearly 37, Paula was within the age range in which a woman's fertility begins to become an issue. By 37, a woman's chances of having a live birth can fall to fifty percent. As a woman enters her 40s, possible birth complications become even more significant. If a woman has never conceived previously, conception might be all but impossible. Paula, however, had done it once before. So, rather than give up, she and her husband began to look for help.

"We first started investigating fertility treatment in 2008," she says. Their research soon took them to Dr. John O'Shea at Mount Nittany Medical Center. A member of the Mount Nittany Physician Group, O'Shea has practiced at the Medical Center for nearly twenty years.

The OB/GYN practice within the Mount Nittany Physician Group provides infertility services including hormone monitoring, ovulation induction, intrauterine insemination, and ultrasound follicle monitoring - all forms of fertility therapy for women trying to conceive.

Ovulation induction helps control the release of a woman's eggs. This alone can aid conception, or it can help in timing the removal of eggs for fertilization. Intrauterine insemination involves placing sperm that have been "washed" and concentrated directly in the uterus to increase a woman's chances of becoming pregnant.

"The physician group experiences a high demand for infertility services," says Dr. O'Shea. "However, there's usually a high cost associated with fertility therapy. This is largely because of the cost of the medications involved with ART, or assisted reproductive technology. Some can cost upwards of $2,000."

Fertility treatments can be even more expensive and time consuming in other countries. "In the UK, you might be allowed one free cycle of IVF (in vitro fertilization) as long as you're on the right side of 40," says Paula. "But even then there's a long waiting list."

The Chans might have even been forced to wait a predetermined period of time between trying to conceive and being allowed to seek treatment. Dr. O'Shea, however, was able to begin treating Paula immediately. But success didn't happen overnight.

"We started by charting my body temperature for a few months," said Paula. "Then I was given ovulation-inducing drugs and we started insemination. We did four rounds of this, without success."

Paula finally conceived early in 2010, but miscarried soon after. "I decided to look into Paula's hormone levels," said O'Shea. "As it turned out, there was an issue with her thyroid."

O'Shea treated Chan's thyroid, and also tried a different ovulation-inducing medication. These medications often work like estrogen, the naturally occurring hormone that stimulates egg production.

For patients requiring the next step - IVF - O'Shea refers patients to a center that uses egg and sperm samples to create an embryo in the lab for insertion into a woman's uterus.
The Chans, though, were finally able to conceive without having to undergo IVF. In fact, they doubled their expected results.

"Success came in the shape of twins!" said Chan. "We were gob-smacked." On February 1, 2011 the Chans, with Dr. O'Shea, welcomed Olivia and Zara into their family.

"The girls were amazingly big and healthy," said Chan. "I had a wonderful, problem-free pregnancy. We have nothing but praise for Dr. O'Shea and his practice. They handled our situation with sensitivity and professionalism."

Now the Chans are diving into their next big move, as they plan to return to England. "It's time to go home," said Chan. Though glad to be heading back to the UK, the couple can't help but be grateful for their time spent here in the states. After all, they're leaving with two very fine souvenirs.